B Corp Spotlight: Sensiba San Filippo
Certified B Corps represent a new type of company. B corps are not only concerned about generating a profit, but also about making our world a better place by focusing on the positive social and/or environmental impacts of their business. Sensiba San Filippo (SSF) clearly embodies the B Corp spirit in its mission to enhance the lives of its employees and make positive impacts in its community. In May of 2018, Sensiba San Filippo joined the movement of people using the power of business as a force for good by becoming the first accounting firm in California to achieve B Corp certification.
With this major achievement, SSF has demonstrated that they are meeting the highest standards for social and environmental responsibility in business and are committed to increased transparency and accountability for their company’s impacts in the future. At Sensiba San Filippo, the company’s priorities are Family, Community and Firm – in that order. I recently spoke with SSF’s managing partner, John Sensiba, about what the B Corp movement means to his business and why its social initiatives are integral to the company’s success.
A company of around 200 employees, SSF is a full-service accounting firm that operates throughout the California Bay Area with offices in San Francisco, Fresno, Morgan Hill, San Mateo, San Jose and the corporate headquarters in Pleasanton. When asked about what it means for SSF to achieve B Corp certification, John replied, “It is something we're pretty proud of. It really is not an end game for us to have achieved B Corp certification, but really a beginning for us to start paying attention at a higher level with some accountability to an outside organization - to try and be the best corporate citizen we can be. We're super excited about it.”
Sensiba San Filippo exists to help people. “We use our professional and personal skills to improve the lives of our families, our communities, our clients and our colleagues,” said John. “Through our service to others, our commitment to integrity, stewardship of the environment, and kindness, we intend to better the lives of those we touch directly. Indirectly, we strive to be a positive force in the global community.”
SSF does its work to have positive impacts in the community. According to John, “SSF is there to help people. By taking away the burdens of taxes and financials, the people we work with have more time to spend in the community and with their families. This is why SSF does what they do.” In addition to this indirect benefit to the community, SSF also has major direct impacts on the community by providing many hours of pro-bono work helping important community organizations with their taxes and financial management. These community organizations supported by SSF are mainly focused on assisting the community’s underserved populations.
Employee volunteer hours in the community are all tracked. John Sensiba jokingly admits that, “It might be cliché for a CPA firm to track hours, but we have some lofty goals.” Indeed, they do. In fact, Sensiba San Filippo has a goal to contribute a half-million employee volunteer hours in the community over the next ten years. Tracking the volunteer hours is important to SSF because the actual impacts, or outputs, of the volunteer work is a bit harder to measure. “We believe that by being intentional about making the effort, supporting our people and contributing those kinds of hours in our communities, we're going to have a positive output.”
At SSF, 100% of the workforce is paid above a living wage. Performance feedback for employees at SSF is integral to the business and is conducted at least on an annual basis, includes peer and subordinate input, provides written guidance for career development, includes social and environmental goals and follows a 360-degree feedback process. The company also offers job flexibility to employees by allowing flex-time work schedules, meaning employees have freedom to vary their start and stop times, as well as telecommuting and job-sharing options.
Training and development are also an integral component used at SSF to help employees grow personally and professionally. “We spend a lot of money on learning and development. We have a full time learning and development director. We have class rooms, virtual classrooms and there's an opportunity to learn anything you want to learn. It doesn't all have to be directly related to our business.” SSF will pay for their employees to work towards master’s degrees and other special certifications as well. John mentions, “I think it's important for our folks to know that we'll do that and that we don't tie it to forever employment. We're not trying to handcuff them. If we don't earn their desire to be a part of the team, that's our fault. If somebody leaves us, it's because we didn't provide enough opportunity, the right training or the right mentoring or coaching.”
Though SSF leases all of their office space and doesn’t have 100% control of their facilities, they make an attempt wherever possible to operate in a way that has a minimal impact on the environment. They have implemented comprehensive recycling throughout their six office locations and purchase environmentally preferred products for the majority of their facilities including non-toxic janitorial products, unbleached paper products and recycled content office supplies.
The Business Case
At 100 employees about five years ago, SSF has seen nice growth this decade and is anticipating reaching 250 employees by the end of next year. In regard to growth and success as a company, John Sensiba mentions, “I think our impact on communities makes us attractive to potential employees, and I think it helps us retain people because our values as an organization are very similar to their values as individuals. So, it's a very positive from a business standpoint, but that's not why we do it. We do it because we feel like it's the right thing to do. Yes, making money is important, but that is not the most important thing.”
Final Five Questions with John Sensiba
What is one piece of advice you would give other mission driven or B Corp business leaders?
“Stick with it. Don't give up if somebody makes fun of you for not being Gordon Gecko or for not being solely focused on your bottom line. Continue to do the right thing, have a long-term strategy and I think you'll be very rewarded.”
What are you most excited about right now in the world of business?
“The niceness. People are running businesses to help their communities to come up with really innovative ways to stop human suffering. We have a client that is so focused on addressing diseases that just aren't profitable, such as those orphan diseases that big pharma won't spend money on. I'm not blaming big pharma. I'm not trying to bash anybody here, but economically, if you've got to report to your shareholders, you don't develop a drug for a disease that doesn't have a big market. There's people doing that stuff now and finding ways to get it funded. I think, not only business, but people in general are more focused on doing good. I'm excited about that.“
How about a book recommendation, John? What is one book you would recommend business leaders or B Corp leaders read?
“Well, one of my favorite books is written by Stephen M.R. Covey, that's Stephen Covey's son. It's called The Speed of Trust. Whether you're a B Corp or never will become a B Corp, I think you should read it once a year.”
What are some of your favorite resources or tools that really help you in your work?
“I like to read things by smart people, whether it's on the topic of the CPA profession, finance or any other topics. So I look at resources internationally. I look for people who are thinking outside themselves and beyond their own society. So, I just like to read things that expand my mind, and it's not hard to find people smarter than me and I just love reading their thoughts.”
Where can people go to learn more about you and the work being done at Sensiba San Filippo?
“They can find us at our website, which is ubiquitous. They can look at my personal twitter feed, which is @Sensiba. We are pretty well published on LinkedIn. We put a lot of thought pieces out there. We have other social media outlets, but if you google Sensiba you will find us.”